The New England Patriots boast one of the most talent-heavy rosters in all of football. From star quarterback Tom Brady to Dont’a Hightower to Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots should be one of the top contenders in the 2018 season. However, winning a championship requires more than just a few stars. Oftentimes, it’s the guys at the bottom of the depth chart who determine the ultimate success of the team. One of the unheralded stars of 2018 could be sixth-round rookie Braxton Berrios.
While Berrios has yet to take a professional snap, it’s not hard to envision the former Miami Hurricane evolving into one of the more reliable weapons in the Patriots offense. Conversely, it’s just as easy to see him riding the bench for the majority of 2018. Berrios is one of the biggest X-Factors on the team, and his performance could make or break the 2018 Patriots.
New England Patriots X-Factors: Braxton Berrios
The New England Patriots offense is slot receiver heaven, and on paper, Berrios was made for this scheme. The Patriots first revolutionized the slot receiver position with Wes Welker in 2007, and have continued to incorporate the role into their offense.
Berrios could be next in line to fill that slot role. According to Pro Football Focus, Berrios was one of the most efficient slot receivers in all of football. Berrios accounted for 680 receiving yards and eight touchdowns from the slot. He clearly has the tools to succeed in the NFL, especially in the Patriots system.
Additionally, the slot receiver role is up for grabs. Thanks to the departure of Danny Amendola, there’s a vacancy on the inside. Yes, Julian Edelman is returning in 2018, but he’s suspended for the first four games of the season. New England needs another receiver to step up. The job is there for the taking, and Berrios appears to be a natural fit.
The Obstacles in the Way
While Berrios has the opportunity to play a big role, don’t pencil him in for the job quite yet. There are still several hurdles Berrios needs to clear. In order for Berrios to succeed, he’ll need to overcome both camp battles as well as his inexperience.
As previously mentioned, there’s an open competition for the slot receiver role. However, Berrios is not alone in the battle. As of this posting, the biggest threat to take the job is former Philadelphia Eagle and Buffalo Bill Jordan Matthews. Matthews had a down 2017, but he’s now healthy and could return to his 2013-2016 form.
In order for Berrios to see playing time, he’ll need to prove that he’s better than a healthy Matthews. That won’t be easy to do, as Matthews recorded more yards from the slot than any other player from 2013-2016.
Additionally, Berrios will need to overcome two separate rookie walls. Being a rookie in Foxboro is difficult enough, as rookie receivers have historically struggled with the Patriots. Additionally, players like Welker, Amendola, and Edelman waited years before establishing themselves in the NFL. Berrios may face a similar uphill battle in the coming months.
It’s no secret that the New England Patriots offense is one of the more complex schemes in the league. Receivers are responsible for running multiple routes every play, depending on what the defense does. Succeeding in this offense requires not just a high football IQ, but a strong chemistry with Tom Brady.
These things take time to develop, and not all receivers are capable of doing this in their first off-season. Of all rookie receivers in the Brady Era, Aaron Dobson’s 2013 was probably the most successful. Dobson finished his rookie year with 37 receptions for 513 yards and four touchdowns. The only other notable rookie years are Deion Branch’s 2002 (43/489/2), Julian Edelman’s 2009, (37/359/1) and Malcolm Mitchell’s2016 (32/401/4).
These seasons were the best of the best, and none were that great. Only Dobson eclipsed 500 yards, and only Branch exceeded 40 receptions. By comparison, Danny Amendola finished his 2017 with 61 receptions for 659 yards and two touchdowns. That’s more yards and receptions than any recent rookie has produced, so history is not on Berrios’ side.
Additionally, Berrios will see most of his time in the slot, which may be the hardest position to adapt to. The slot receiver, whether it be Welker, Amendola, Edelman, or even Troy Brown (although Brown and Edelman played more outside than just slot) serves as Brady’s security blanket. Any time Brady needs a quick completion or a third-down conversion, Brady first turns towards his slot weapon. No matter how good Berrios is, he’ll never see the field unless he and Brady see the field in the exact same way.
Historical Slot Struggles
As if that all wasn’t enough, slot receivers have historically bounced around before establishing themselves as receivers. Welker spent two seasons between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins before establishing himself as a serviceable third receiver in 2006. Even in 2006, Welker didn’t put up the giant number he would go on to produce with the Patriots. Likewise, Amendola was cut from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 before sticking with the St. Louis Rams in 2009.
Even Edelman was not immune from this trend. While he had some relative success his rookie year, Edelman was a non-factor on offense from 2010-2012. In that three-year period, Edelman averaged just 11 receptions and 119 yards per season. Granted, the slot receiver position has evolved dramatically in the past few seasons, so players like these don’t fall through the cracks as often. However, each player’s relative wait for success shows that life in the slot isn’t easy.
Expectations for 2018
Braxton Berrios is the perfect fit for the New England Patriots, and will likely be the slot receiver of the future. However, the future is not now. Edelman’s eventual return, along with Matthews presence and the overall challenge of adjusting to life in the NFL will probably limit Berrios’ production. He’ll probably be the second or third slot option on the depth chart and won’t see much time on offense.
However, don’t expect him to miss the 53-man roster. Despite being a sixth-round pick, it’s hard to imagine Berrios clearing waivers and joining the Patriots practice squad. He’s too good to release, but will probably need a year’s worth of seasoning before he’s ready to be a major contributor.
As far as his rookie season goes, expect roughly 20 receptions for about 200 yards and two or three touchdowns. If the rest of the depth chart stays healthy, Berrios won’t be forced to see more playing time than he can handle. Expect to see Berrios come off the bench sparingly while also contributing on special teams in some form.
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